Twelfth Night and This House, press nights that didn’t happen make it to print

Stephen Fry as Malvolio. Photo Simon Annand

Press nights often create the headlines (after all you need a press night in order to have press reviews. Or do you? More about this later), but in the past week press nights ARE in the headlines: Twelfth Night started previews at the Globe, or more accurately started its Globe performances that function as a preview run before the official opening at the Apollo Theatre in November. None of the Globe performances are for the press and the expectation was, at least on the part of the producers, that the production will be reviewed for the first time at the Apollo. It didn’t quite work out that way: the Telegraph prominently run a review under the headline “Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night – First Review” and the Times followed suit a few days later. Both five star reviews I might add, but the producers are not happy: they protest these reviews break the embargo. I can’t help but feel it is a token effort whose main purpose is to prevent a precedent. With Mark Rylance playing Olivia  and, especially, Stephen Fry playing Malvolio, did they really believe the press would sit on their hands till November? But I wonder how critics from other papers feel. They have every reason to be unhappy as they played by the rules and punished for it.

On the other hand, the Guardian plays a different game these days: it encourages readers to use its own twitter hashtag #GdnReview, and between this and comments on its blogs, it published the readers views of the production. I am ambivalent about the prominent way the Guardian uses the public’s comments: there is a fine line between encouraging dialogue and encouraging people to give you content for free. As these are difficult and confusing days for the press, there is no easy answer. Continue reading

Review: This House at the National Theatre

Philip Glenister as Walter Harrison and Charles Edwards as Jack Weatherill. Photo Johan Persson

I like a production that announces itself with a bang. And This House is such a production. The energy of the first entrance, in addition to the set, both intimate and imposing – the Cottesloe never looked this huge, make a clear statement and from the first few minutes I knew this production will be something special. The next three hours didn’t disappoint.

This House is set in the House of Commons between 1974 and 1979, when Labour, with a tiny majority (or often with no majority at all) was trying to hold onto power. The period has inescapable drama and Margaret Thatcher looms large: not in the choices of the characters but in the mind of the audience, we know the consequence of those choices even if they don’t. The action is largely set in the offices of Tory and Labour whips, with excursions to almost all parts of the building (toilets, corridors, basements, chapel) but we see very little of the House of Commons’ main chamber. This story is set at the bowels of power. The Cottesloe is made to look like the debating chamber but that only reinforces the point: the backstage drama is central to politics, only punctuated by the political debate.

James Graham (who wrote The Man, one of my favourite plays of the last few years) makes a marvellous job of the story: his script is astute, funny but, most of all, interested in the human condition: these people plod along, get confused, are not always clear about what they can achieve. Characters with very few lines are still fleshed out to a poignant presence. This is a world before media spin and expenses scandal. It’s a world where politics – both the debate and backstage action – can relate to real life. The writing has flair and substance, and the result is fast, funny, involving and unexpectedly moving. Continue reading